Thursday, January 8, 2015

Carpet bags have a place in political history

1950s carpet bag handbag made by Jana Handbags, Inc
Carpet bags were a form of inexpensive, durable luggage made from remnants of new carpeting or lesser-worn sections of used, worn-out carpeting. Carpet bags were in common use during the 1800s through the early 1900s when the population of the US and Europe became more mobile and had a need for luggage. Carpet bags often had leather handles and some had a hinged frame much like the design of a traditional doctor’s bag, but they were also made in other configurations. Most carpet bags were commercially made, but some were home-crafted as the materials became available and the need for luggage presented itself.

The term “carpetbagger” is a derogatory term that generally refers to northerners who moved to southern states after the civil war in order to exploit the economically depressed southerners. The term was also used when referring to northerners who moved to the south to become involved in local politics in an effort to impose their beliefs on the local population and to profit from their power. It was said that these northerners arrived carrying all of their worldly possessions in a carpet bag, hence the term “carpetbagger” evolved.

The use of carpet bags as luggage declined in the early 1900s after different types of commercially-made luggage came into fashion. In the 1940s fashion designers reinvented the traditional carpet bag luggage into much smaller versions that were used as ladies’ handbags. In 1964, the movie Mary Poppins stirred up new interest in carpet bags, for in that movie Mary Poppins carried a magical carpet bag that enthralled many viewers. The interest in these handbags continued sporadically into the 1970s.

Early carpet bag luggage can be difficult to find and may command high process today, but the modern handbag versions are often available in antique shops and are usually more reasonably priced.  An interesting side note: the original carpet bag from the Mary Poppins movie was given away after the filming of the movie concluded. The new owners actually used it as luggage and their children used it when playing dress-up, and then it was tucked away in a box for many years. In 2010 it was offered for sale at an auction. It was expected to sell for approximately $10,000, but it sold for $95,000 plus commission.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Protect your home with a garden gnome

Gnome lawn ornaments, also known as garden gnomes, originated in Germany and date back to the mid-1800s. Gnomes were thought to bring good luck and protection to the homes that they “guarded.” Some people believed that gnomes lived underground and worked in the garden at night while the occupants of the home slept, which is why gnomes were often depicted with shovels, wheelbarrows or watering cans.

The first garden gnomes were made out of clay, but the material did not stand up well to weather, so later-date gnomes were usually made out the more durable concrete material which was often painted in vivid colors. As German immigrants came to the US, gnomes started appearing on US lawns, and by the 1930s and 40s, concrete gnomes had become widely popular in the US. Vintage gnomes, especially those with their original paint intact, can command high prices. 

Gnomes are back in demand today and it is likely that their new popularity can be traced to 2004 when the online travel agency, Travelocity, aired the first of its television ad campaigns featuring a gnome, which heightened the interest of collectors.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Glass crucifix candlesticks - reminders of a special day

Glass crucifix candlesticks

These glass crucifix candlesticks were used by children in the late 1800s through the early 1900s during their first communion ceremony. The child kept the candlestick as a commemorative of their special day and for use later in life for certain religious rites.

Many glass makers made these candlesticks and each had their own design. The most common glass colors were clear crystal and milk glass, but they were also made in amber, purple and other colors. Some manufacturers decorated their pieces with gold “goofus” paint, although this treatment wore off easily and it is difficult to find such items today in intact, original condition.
Prices for crucifix candlesticks vary and depend on the glass manufacturer, design and condition.  They usually begin at around $35 for a common candlestick, but expect to pay considerably more for uncommon designs or unusual glass colors.   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gift ideas for the antiques enthusiast’s travel “tool kit”

Any of the items listed below would make a thoughtful gift for the antiques enthusiast who frequents flea markets or antiques shows.

A JEWELER'S LOUPE. This type of magnifying glass has many useful applications when one is hunting for antiques. Some serious antiques enthusiasts consider the loupe to be their most necessary tool. For example, a loupe can help in reading the tiny markings found on jewelry and on other objects, and it can be used to look closely at artwork to determine whether it is an original or a print. Jeweler’s loupes can be found at some craft stores and coin shops. 

A small, lightweight, TAPE MEASURE. The obvious use is for helping the antiques hunter determine if an object will fit where they want it to go, but a tape measure is also useful in other ways, such as determining if a piece of glassware (or other item) is a reproduction or if an art print has been cut down from its original size. These small tape measures can be found in almost any store that sells tools.

A small but strong MAGNET. Use the magnet to determine if an item is made out of a ferromagnetic material, such as iron. In some instances, it is good when the magnet “sticks” to an object, such as when trying to determine if the yard set that you are looking at is really made out of iron and is not a modern aluminum reproduction. But sometimes it is best if the magnet does not stick. For example, if the magnet attracts to a piece of jewelry, then the jewelry was made from plated steel parts and therefore it is not real gold or silver. Be careful, however, to keep the magnet away from your credit cards because the magnet could demagnetize their strip.  Small magnets can be found in craft stores.

A small battery-operated BLACK LIGHT. With a bit of knowledge and practice, the antiques enthusiast could learn how to use the black light to detect cracks and glued repairs in china and other objects, and to identify certain types of gemstones and glass. Black lights are also commonly used to detect stains on fabrics, which is why they are sometimes available at pet supply stores. Black lights do not work well in direct sunlight; use them in a shady or darkened location.

A reusable NYLON BAG IN A POUCH. These strong, lightweight bags come folded up inside of a small pouch or an attached pocket, which is small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. When unfolded, they are usually the size and shape of a plastic grocery bag, but they are much stronger and they can be used again and again. It is not uncommon for an antiques dealer at a flea market to lack bags for their wares (or worse, you are offered a grimy bag in which to place your newly-purchased treasure), so the nylon bag is a handy item to have. When the bag’s use is done for the day, simply fold it back up and slip it back into its pouch or pocket. These bags are often available at stores that sell gifts.

An INSULATED WATER BOTTLE CARRIER WITH A BELT HOOK. Outdoor flea markets can be hot and dry and drinking water is not always readily available. The bottle carrier should be insulated not just to keep the contents of the bottle cool, but also to prevent condensation from dripping off of the bottle and onto expensive antiques. The belt hook keeps the carrying of the water bottle “hands-free” and it also assures that the water bottle won’t be set down and left behind. Buy these insulated bottle carriers in shops that sell supplies for hikers.

A small, spiral bound PAD OF PAPER AND A PEN. The use of these items are obvious, but one never seems to have a paper and pen handy when one needs it, and there are many occasions at flea markets or antiques shows when it is necessary to write down information, such as a description of an object, or to take down a phone number or an email address.  

A stack of INDIVIDUALLY PACKAGED HAND WIPES. Flea markets are often dusty places and it is very easy for hands to become extremely dirty while rummaging for treasures. Anyone who has ever dug through a box of old silverware knows how quickly this can happen. The neighboring antiques dealer will be grateful that you wiped off your hands before touching the items on his table.

Small NON-PERISHABLE SNACKS, such as a packet of mints or breakfast bars. While food is often available at flea markets, it may not be conveniently located when one needs a quick sugar lift. Be careful not to include anything that could melt into a gooey mess.  

A FANNY PACK, belt bag or other type of hands-free bag. Although some might not consider this type of bag to be fashionable, it stores the items listed above and keeps the hands of the antiques enthusiast free to handle objects. Despite their name, fanny packs are usually worn in front over the tummy area. Don’t wear them over your back end unless you want to entice pick pockets. These types of bags can be found at shops that cater to hikers.

A collapsible WHEELED SHOPPING CART. This would be appreciated by the antiques enthusiast who collects many things or who collects heavy items. These carts are a common site at large flea markets, especially where the parking lot is a great distance away from the seller’s area. The carts come in a variety of styles and can be purchased at “big-box” stores or hardware stores. Old, original shopping carts have more character than modern versions.  Search at flea markets or antiques shows if you want to purchase an old shopping cart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book recommendation: “Killer Stuff and Tons of Money”

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money:
An Insider's Look at the World of Flea Markets, Antiques, and Collecting

Written by Maureen Stanton

Published by Penguin Books, 2011, reprinted 2012

Maureen Stanton’s Killer Stuff and Tons of Money cuts away the veneer and polish of the antiques business, revealing the tough, gritty, and intriguing nature of this profession. Stanton’s book is as entertaining as it is informative, all while accurately capturing the challenging, exhausting and fascinating life of veteran antiques dealer, “Curt Avery,” as he travels the flea market and antiques show circuit. During her journeys with Avery, Stanton gathers insider’s tips and advice as Avery “picks” antiques from auctions, estate sales, yard sales, and other intriguing venues. Avery’s guidance and education continues as Stanton accompanies Avery during his preparation and set-up at elite (and not-so-elite) antiques shows.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is well-written and expertly researched, with useful chapter notes, a bibliography and a detailed index. The reader will have to make a difficult decision on whether Killer Stuff should be categorized under “Literature” or “Reference” in their home library. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the book is only for eggheads, because Stanton’s non-fiction book reads like a fast-paced novel. Allow yourself plenty of time to read it as you will not want to put it down.

Reviewed by:
Sue Rose
Author, Attuned to Antiques online magazine

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How pumpkins became popular - and a Pumpkin Pie recipe from 1939

Although it may be difficult to imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without a pumpkin pie, this tasty desert took a while to become common at the Thanksgiving dinner table. American Indians introduced early American settlers to pumpkins and it didn’t take long for the settlers to embrace the pumpkin for its nutritional virtues. However, the later immigrants to America had a different opinion of pumpkins, some thinking of it as a poor-man’s food and others believing that pumpkins were only suitable to be used as livestock feed. Practical Farming and Gardening, published in 1920 by The S. A. Mullikin Company of Marietta, Ohio, had this to say about pumpkins:

The crop is largely grown for stock, and finds only limited use as a table vegetable…It is a valuable fall and early winter feed for cattle, sheep and swine, and is adapted to a very wide range of climatic conditions.

It would take several more years for pumpkin pie to be a common sight at most Thanksgiving tables. Thanksgiving did not become a fixed national holiday until 1941, when Congress set the date as the last Thursday in the month of November. Even after the date was set, pumpkins did not become a major crop in the United States until after the end of the Second World War when the cessation of sugar rationing inspired an increase in the baking of sweet deserts such as pumpkin pie, and the children of the “Baby Boom” increased the demand for pumpkins destined to become Jack-O-Lanterns.

The pumpkin pie recipe shown here is from Practical Cookery and the Etiquette and Service of the Table published in 1939 by Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.

Pumpkin Pie

1 cup cooked, strained pumpkin pulp
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1 cup milk or cream

“Mix sugar, salt and spices. Add to egg, then add pumpkin and cream. If milk is used add 2 tablespoons melted fat. Pour into a pan lined with a plain pastry. Bake in a hot oven (450° F.) until crust begins to set, then reduce temperature and bake very slowly (300° F.) until filling is firm. The filling must not be allowed to boil at any time or pie will be watery. Serve with or without whipped cream. If desired, add ½ cup chopped nuts. 6 servings.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Party Game from 1929: “Boston Telegrams”

Try this challenging “paper game” at your next Halloween party or other holiday party.

From: 255 Games to Play by Clare Graeffe and Paul W. Kearney, published in 1929

“Prepare in advance a sheet of paper for each guest, writing a different letter of the alphabet on each one. When the players receive their papers they are instructed to write a ten-word telegram, each word of which must begin with the letter appearing at the top of their respective sheets. (Needless to say, impossible letters like X, Q, Z and Y can well be eliminated.)

Telegrams for special parties:  As in the case of many other paper games, Boston Telegrams can be altered so as to apply directly to a party given on some special occasion. For a [Halloween] affair, for instance, you can prepare a paper in advance so that each guest receives his sheet with the following on it: H___A___L___L___O___W___E___E___N___

The players must then fill in the blanks with words that will make a suitable telegram. The same thing can be done with New Year, Christmas, Easter, Valentine, Thanksgiving, Anniversary, etc.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

“Flow Blue” – intentional or accidental?

“Flow Blue” ceramics refers to a type of transferware in which the transfer printed design, usually a cobalt blue color on white ceramic, ran and flowed during the firing process, causing the design to appear blurry (for more information on transferware, see the October 17, 2012  Attuned to Antiques article, “Transferware: decorative and affordable”).
The flow blue decorating process began in England around 1835. Experts differ on whether the first batches of Flow Blue ceramic pieces were created purposefully or whether they were the result of a mistake, but both opinions have merit. If the process was purposeful, then the blurry nature of the Flow Blue design would cover up flaws in imperfect ceramic pieces and it would cover the seams that are inherent in transfer printing. If the process was a mistake, then it is likely that the manufacturer of the items would have recognized that the flowing, blurry design added an interesting and beautiful touch to the transferware.

Regardless of which theory you accept, records show that by 1840 Flow Blue ceramics had become highly sought after, especially by American consumers, and that the style remained popular into the early 1900s. Manufacturers in other countries such as Holland, France, Germany and eventually America, began to replicate the process using different patterns and designs. As flow blue ceramics grew in popularity some of the manufacturers expanded their flow process to other colors, such as grey or mulberry, and also to some polychrome (multicolored) designs. However, the cobalt blue color remained the most popular.
Flow Blue ceramics are still highly sought after today by collectors. Pieces that are in good condition can command high prices, especially if the item has a rare pattern or an unusual design.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Transferware: decorative and affordable

Early mass-produced ceramic pieces that were intended for every day dining were often plain or had simple, hand-painted designs. Elaborate designs existed, but such designs required hand painting, which was a costly, labor-intensive and time-consuming process. Homemakers loved the intricate designs but most could not afford to purchase such pieces. Manufacturers soon became aware that there was a market for highly decorated, yet inexpensive ceramics.

The process of making a print of artwork on paper had been around for a while before a process was developed in the mid-1700s in England that transferred artwork onto ceramics. This transfer process involved making a copper engraving of a design, applying ink to the engraved copper plate, and then pressing the inked copper plate onto tissue paper. The tissue paper was dampened to make it more pliable and then it was carefully burnished onto a ceramic item. When the tissue was removed the ink design was left on the ceramic. Then the ceramic item was placed in a kiln and fired (baked) at a high heat, which set the design on the ceramic. Some items were coated with a clear glaze and then kiln-fired to seal in the design. The ceramic pieces that are decorated in this manner are called “transferware.” Variations of this method are still in use today.

Many antique pieces of transferware are still available and they can often be found for a fairly low price, especially when compared to other types of antiques. Some collectors of transferware collect a specific color or pattern while others look for pieces that follow a theme, such as a particular animal or flower. A grouping of transferware plates hung on a wall adds a historic and decorative touch to a room. Collecting transferware can be a fascinating and economical hobby.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wages in 1889: U.S. President and other government employees

The United States presidential debates and upcoming elections bring to mind the history of the United States and the men and women who toiled to build the country. Many immigrants came to America with little to no money and with only the possessions that they could carry. They built their new lives in the U.S. from the ground up, literally and figuratively. And even when one considers their actual cost of living, many or our ancestors endured financial and other hardships that are difficult to imagine. For example, in 1889, a factory worker's average income was less than $500 per year, and that was for a 6 day work week. Most farm workers and laborers had even lower incomes. Those who desired higher incomes often sought out “government jobs."

The photos included here are pages from The Business Guide by J.L. Nichols, published in 1889 by Lauer & Mattill. They show that in 1889, the president of the United State and other U.S. government employees had significantly higher salaries than the average U.S. citizen. The president’s salary in 1889 was $50,000 per year, and the vice president’s salary was $8,000 annually.

Times have changed, of course, but there is still a great difference between the wages of the hard working “common man," and his president. The current U.S. president's annual salary is $400,000, with an additional annual expense account of $50,000, an annual travel account of $100,000, and a $19,000 entertainment allotment. The current U.S. vice president is not as fortunate as the president, but most of us would be content to have our pay match the vice president's annual salary: $230,700.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Recipe from 1914: “Apple Fritters ”

From the Pilgrim Congregational Cook Book of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, prepared by “The Woman’s Union” and published in 1914


“One egg, 1 ½ cups milk, either sweet or sour; 5 medium sized apples run through a coarse grater; mix the above, then add 1 ¾ cups flour, 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder, a little salt sifted together. Drop from a spoon in hot lard. Eat with syrup or sugar and cream.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

An 1890 list for a $100 dream kitchen

This advice from The Pattern Cook-book, published in 1890, was targeted at the wealthy homemaker. While the previous advice gave instructions for setting up a kitchen for $25, this advice was for a $100 dream kitchen. The price of each item is shown in pennies; for example, the potato masher was 8¢, the cake turner was 12¢ and the roasting pan was 85¢. The homemaker could purchase everything on the list for $100.